LOS ANGELES (CBSNewYork/AP) — Cult leader Charles Manson, whose followers killed actress Sharon Tate and six others in 1969, has died. He was 83.
A spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections says Manson died of natural causes Sunday night.
A petty criminal who had been in and out of jail since childhood, the charismatic, guru-like Manson surrounded himself in the 1960s with runaways and other lost souls and then sent his disciples to butcher some of L.A.’s rich and famous in what prosecutors said was a bid to trigger a race war — an idea he got from a twisted reading of the Beatles song “Helter Skelter.”
The gory slayings horrified the world and revealed a violent underbelly of a counterculture that preached peace and love.
The killings occurred on successive August nights and terrorized the city of Los Angeles. Tate, who was nearly nine months pregnant, was found stabbed repeatedly in her Hollywood mansion, along with several of her friends. Other victims included coffee heiress Abigail Folger and celebrity hair stylist Jay Sebring.
The next night a wealthy couple was killed in a similar fashion. The killers scrawled such phrases as “Pigs” and “Healter Skelter” (sic) in blood at the crime scenes.
According to testimony, Manson sent his devotees out on the night of Tate’s murder with instructions to “do something witchy.” The state’s star witness, Linda Kasabian, who was granted immunity, testified that Manson tied up the LaBiancas, then ordered his followers to kill. But Manson insisted: “I have killed no one, and I have ordered no one to be killed.”
After a trial that lasted nearly a year, Manson and three followers — Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten — were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Another defendant, Charles “Tex” Watson, was convicted later. All were spared execution and given life sentences after the California Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in 1972.
Atkins died behind bars in 2009. Krenwinkel, Van Houten and Watson remain in prison. Another Manson devotee, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford in 1975, but her gun jammed. She served 34 years in prison.
Manson was also later convicted of the slayings of musician Gary Hinman and stuntman Donald “Shorty” Shea. He was up for parole 12 times and was always denied.
During a 1986 interview with CBS’ Charlie Rose, Manson spoke about a holy war against the rich and powerful.
“There’s no murder in a holy war,” Manson said.
Prison officials previously said he had no known next of kin. State law says that if no relative or legal representative surfaces within 10 days, it’s up to the department to determine what happens with the body.
It’s unclear if Manson requested funeral services of any sort.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)